Jellicoe's Letter of October 1914

This is the well-known letter from Admiral Jellicoe to the Admiralty, outlining his intended tactics should he encounter the German Fleet - paragraphs 10 and 11 are often quoted. Arthur Marder has pointed out that it was written just before the court martial of Admiral Troubridge for the esape of SMS Goeben to Turkey. This letter has been transcribed from A. Temple Patterson's The Jellicoe Papers, Volume I, pages 75-79. The 1st and 3rd Destroyer Flotillas referred to were part of the Harwich Force, under Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt.

Iron Duke

30th October, 1914.

The experience gained of German methods since the commencement of the war makes it possible and very desirable to consider the manner in which these methods are likely to be made use of tactically in a fleet action.

2. The Germans have shown that they rely to a very great extent on submarines, mines, and torpedoes, and there can be no doubt whatever that they will endeavour to make the fullest use of these weapons in a fleet action, especially since they possess an actual superiority over us in these particular directions.

3. It, therefore, become necessary to consider our own tactical methods in relation to these forms of attack.

4. In the first place, it is evident that the Germans cannot rely with certainty upon having their full complement of submarines and minelayers present in a fleet action, unless the battle is fought in waters selected by them and in the Southern area of the North Sea. Aircraft, also, could only be brought into action in this locality.

5. My object will therefore be to fight the fleet action in the Northern portion of the north Sea, which position is incidentally nearer our own bases, giving our wounded ships a chance of reaching them, whilst it ensures the final destruction or capture of enemy wounded vessels, and greatly handicaps a night destroyer attack before or after a fleet action. The Northern area is also favourable to a concentration of our cruisers and torpedo craft with the battlefleet; such concentration on the part of the enemy being always possible, since he will choose a time for coming out when all his ships are coaled and ready in all respects to fight.

6. Owing to the necessity that exists for keeping our cruisers at sea, it is probable that many will be short of coal when the opportunity for a fleet action arises, and they might be unable to move far to the Southward for this reason.

7. The presence of a large force of cruisers is most necessary, for observation and for screening the battlefleet, so that the latter may be manoeuvred into any desired position behind the cruiser screen. This is a strong additional reason for fighting in the Northern area.

8. Secondly, it is necessary to consider what may be termed the tactics of the actual battlefield. The German submarines, if worked as expected with the battlefleet, can be used in one of two ways:

In the first case the submarines would probably be led by the cruisers to a position favourable for attacking our battlefleet as it advanced to deploy, and in the second case they might be kept in a position in rear, or to the flank, of the enemy's battlefleet, which would move in the direction required to draw our own Fleet into contact with the submarines.

9. The first move at (a) should be defeated by our own cruisers, provided we have a sufficient number present, as they should be able to force the enemy's cruisers to action at a speed which would interfere with submarine tactics.

The cruisers must, however, have destroyers in company to assist in dealing with the submarines, and should be well in advance of the battlefleet; hence the necessity for numbers.

10. The second move at (b) can be countered by judicious handling of our battlefleet, but may, and probably will, involve a refusal to comply with the enemy's tactics by moving in the invited direction. If, for instance, the enemy battlefleet were to turn away from an advancing Fleet, I should assume that the intention was to lead us over mines and submarines, and should decline to be so drawn.

11. I desire particularly to draw the attention of Their Lordships to this point, since it may be deemed a refusal of battle, and, indeed, might possibly result in failure to bring the enemy to action as soon as is expected and hoped.

12. Such a result would be absolutely repugnant to the feelings of all British Naval Officers and men, but with new and untried methods of warfare new tactics must be devised to meet them.

I feel that such tactics, if not understood, may bring odium upon me, but so long as I have the confidence of their Lordships I intend to pursue what is, in my considered opinion, the proper course to defeat and annihilate the enemy's battlefleet, without regard to uninstructed opinion or criticism.

13. The situation is a difficult one. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that half our battlefleet might be disabled by under-water attack before the guns opened fire at all, if a false move is made, and I feel that I must constantly bear in mind the great probability of such attack and be prepared tactically to prevent its success.

14. The safeguard against submarines will consist in moving the battlefleet at very high speed to a flank before deployment takes place or the gun action commences.

This will take us off the ground on which the enemy desires to fight, but it may, of course, result in his refusal to follow me.

If the battlefleets remain within sight of one another, though not near the original area, the limited submerged radius of action and speed of the submarines will prevent the submarines from following without coming to the surface, and I should feel that after an interval of high speed manoeuvring I could safely close.

15. The object of this letter is to place my views before their Lordships, and to direct their attention to the alterations in pre-conceived ideas of battle tactics which are forced upon use by the anticipated appearance in a fleet action of submarines and minelayers.

16. There can be no doubt that the fullest use will also be made by the enemy of surface torpedo craft.

This point has been referred to in previous letters to their Lordships, and, so long as the whole of the First Fleet Flotillas are with the Fleet, the hostile destroyers will be successfully countered and engaged.

The necessity for attaching some destroyers to Cruiser Squadrons, alluded to in paragraph 9, emphasizes the necessity for the junction of the 1st and 3rd Flotillas with the Fleet before a fleet action takes place.

17. It will, however, be very desirable that all available ships and torpedo craft should be ordered to the position of the fleet action as soon as it is known to be imminent, as the presence of even Third Fleet vessels after the action or towards its conclusion may prove of great assistance in rendering the victory shattering and complete.

The Channel Fleet should be accompanied by as many destroyers, drawn from the Dover or Coast patrols, as can be spared.

I trust that their Lordships will give the necessary orders on the receipt of information from me of an impending fleet action.

18. In the event of a fleet action being imminent, or, indeed, as soon as the High Sea Fleet is known to be moving Northward, it is most desirable that a considerable number of our oversea submarines should proceed towards the Fleet, getting first onto the line between the Germans and Heligoland in order to intercept them when returning. The German Fleet would probably arrange its movements so as to pass Heligoland at dusk when coming out and at dawn when returning, in order to minimise submarine risk. The opportunity for submarine attack in the Heligoland Bight would not therefore be very great, and from 4 to 6 submarines would be the greatest number that could be usefully employed there. The remainder, accompanied by one or two light cruisers, taken, if necessary, from the Dover patrol, should work up towards the position of the fleet, the light cruisers keeping in wireless touch with me.

The Admiralty's response:


7th November 1914.

I have laid before My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your letter of the 30th ultimo., and I am commanded by them to inform you that they approve your views, as stated therein, and desire to assure you of their full confidence in your contemplated conduct of the Fleet in action.

2. My Lords will, as desired, give orders for all available Ships and Torpedo Craft to proceed to the position of the Fleet Action on learning from you that it is imminent.

Last Updated: 25 November, 2001.

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